Monday Musings: Boutique Classic

The Arqana Arc sale, staged every eve of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the company’s Saint-Cloud base, used to be a major source of excitement with several candidates due to run the next day, sometimes even in the big race itself, going through in a real boutique auction, writes Tony Stafford.

It was the model for the much more recent pre-Royal Ascot auction where many of UK racing’s great and good, and many over here from overseas for the week, would be wined and if-not dined, certainly canape’d to their hearts’ content in Kensington Palace Gardens with nary a horse to be seen.

Friends of mine got a great result a few years ago selling a decent handicapper for an embarrassingly-large amount. I hope his new owners were as satisfied in the longer scheme of things as his original partners but I very much doubt they were.

Last October 3, with Covid in full force throughout Europe, a slimmed-down catalogue of 27 horses went virtually “sous le marteau” – I used the translation for hammer as the French for “gavel” is, boringly, gavel, what a let-down!

With absentees, reserves not attained and simply horses unsold or bought back, only 11 changed hands.

Most of those were three-year-olds and in the 43-49 kg mark, translating to 86-108 in UK ratings. The highest price was the €975,000 for Virginia Joy, a German-trained filly that has been exported from France to the USA, and won an optional allowance claiming race last month at Belmont Park for her new owner, Peter Brant.

One oddity and the only obvious jumps prospect was the once-raced (placed third) AQPS gelding Hercule Point, bought for €270,000 by Dan Skelton. I think we should look out for this son of the top French jumps sire, Network.

Two of those sold had in fact performed at ParisLongchamp that afternoon on the first stage of the Arc meeting. Step By Step, a colt, was third in the Qatar Prix Chaudenay. He went for €320,000 and has not been sighted since being bought by Narvick International.

Until yesterday the only other subsequent winner from the batch was King Pacha, €100k worth of three-year-old colt that has been strutting his stuff in Qatar. First time there in January he was second in the Qatar Derby and after a lesser runner-up spot, won a 100 grand race before two later fifth places.

But then there was yesterday, and what was expected to be the second leg of an Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore double 35 minutes after St Mark’s Basilica won the French 2,000 Guineas – forget all that Poule D’Essai stuff!

St Mark’s Basilica was allowed to start at 4-1 in his first run since claiming top 2020 European colt honours having won last year’s Dewhurst. That choice of Classic for his comeback run shows that a fair bit of planning goes into those Ballydoyle Spring pack-shufflings  as St Mark’s Basilica is a son of the top French sire, Siyouni.

After this victory, leading French breeders will be unable to resist him when he goes to stud. A quick look through the list of Aidan’s 192 inmates in Horses In Training shows he is the only Siyouni in the yard. Of course he does have a family connection a few miles down the road at Coolmore stud, the home of Siyouni’s 2020 Arc winner, Sottsass.

It’s been rather long-winded but at last I’m there. Sottsass was trained by Jean-Claude Rouget and that most prolific of French trainers from his base in the west of France is always dangerous in the Classic races on home soil.

Yesterday he had a single runner pitted against Mother Earth and, while the O’Brien filly was anything but disgraced in finishing runner-up in another Classic so soon after Newmarket, she could not match Rouget’s outsider.

Coeursamba is a daughter of The Wow Signal, who raced only at two and won his first three races, including at Royal Ascot, for John Quinn but lost his unbeaten record in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. He was the 7-4 favourite, but finished last of seven behind Gleneagles, the future 2,000 Guineas winner, and promptly retired to stud in France.

Coeursamba won only one of her six races at two, but did enough to earn a rating dead on 100. She dutifully took her place the next day in the Prix Marcel Boussac, and finished fifth to Tiger Tanaka, who was unplaced yesterday.  Then last autumn she had one more run, third behind Lullaby Moon, the Redcar Gold Trophy winner, another also-ran. Lullaby Moon now runs in the ever-more-recognisable Amo Racing colours.

That was one of many private and public deals that have bolstered the strength of Amo’s celebrity football agent, Kia Joorabchian.  A stream of juvenile first-time winners in his purple and white silks have been inevitably attracting attention and quickly propelling trainer George Boughey into the big time.

No doubt they will be going on a shopping spree this week when Arqana stage their breeze-up sale in Doncaster rather than Paris with the Covid recovery trailing behind the UK’s – touch wood and whistle, as Len Baily, brother of Spurs and England footballer Eddie used not only to say but perform with a modest trill.

I worked in Len and middle brother Charlie’s betting shop in Clarence Road, Lower Clapton, before leaving school and passed up an offer to take their partner Sid’s share when he retired – for free.  I’m clinging on to that sort of memory – Len’s whistle – for dear life, still wondering whether I should have been on the other side of the argument for the past 58 years!

Coeursamba, at €400,000 the second most expensive of those Arqana Arc sale graduates, might have started 66-1 but could have been mistaken for the favourite as she quickly asserted over Mother Earth.

Mr Joorabchian doesn’t show many signs that he is finished with his acquisitions. Rossa Ryan, a young jockey who is showing that the best way to go from mid-range to top-level rider is to get on good horses, revealed in a recent interview that his boss has a team of 85, more than 50 of them two-year-olds.

As I said, we’ve seen a few of them and good luck to Kia, a welcome incoming force just as two of the biggest players ever in the UK, Prince Khalid Abdullah and Hamdan Al-Maktoum, have left the scene. As the O’Learys are finding with the Gigginstown House hordes, it’s not easy to rationalise overnight, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing the Frankel and Nashwan colours for years to come until the two bosses’ successors decide on which way they will go with their massive operations.

One disappointment in the “1,000” was the running of King’s Harlequin in the Sam Sangster colours; but that Camelot filly has already far-outweighed her original purchase price of €30k, by Tina Rau and Nicolas Clement as a yearling.

It might not have been what connections had been hoping for yesterday as King’s Harlequin raced too freely and gradually dropped away. Sam, though, is continuing to show signs that he is a chip off the old block and in time could be winning big races in the manner of his father, the late Robert Sangster.

At Windsor on Monday Sam watched on from home as the four-year-old filly Beauty Stone came from last to first off her mark of 69 to win a fillies’ handicap over an extended 11 furlongs by just over six lengths.

A daughter of Australia she had three runs for Charlie Appleby in the Godolphin blue without making any impact. She was a 475,000gns yearling buy but cost only 5,500gns when Sam picked her up when culled at the February horses-in-training sale at Newmarket last year.

She had a busy 2020 when racing resumed winning a small race at the fifth attempt for trainer Tom Ward, chosen as he had been a school-friend of Sam’s brother Max, the youngest of the Sangster siblings.

To show just how good a choice that was, Beauty Stone was completing a hat-trick and winning for the fourth time in all at Windsor. Fancied in the morning, trainer and owner were constantly on the phone with Sam quizzing Tom as to why a filly which had won its last two races could still be available at 20-1 even though she’d been backed.

Making a final contact as the filly was being saddled, Sam asked the trainer: “Does she look big?” to which Tom replied: “Looking at her now, maybe?”  I wish I’d heard the story before rather than half an hour after the race, but with her nice pedigree, there’s no doubt that’s another Sangster steal. Sangster the Gangster is back! In a manner of speaking, of course .


Newmarket winners head French Guineas fields

Poetic Flare and Mother Earth are set to bid for Classic doubles in their respective French Guineas assignments at ParisLongchamp this weekend.

Jim Bolger’s Poetic Flare, a tenacious winner of this month’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, is one of 12 set to do battle on Sunday following final declarations.

Aidan O’Brien’s Newmarket heroine Mother Earth is one of a field of 14 for the French 1000 Guineas on the same card.

Poetic Flare forms part of a twin Irish challenge in the 2000 Guineas, alongside O’Brien’s Dewhurst winner St Mark’s Basilica, while Lambourn trainer Archie Watson sends his Greenham Stakes runner-up Mehmento to take on the home contingent.

Frederic Rossi’s Sealiway, winner of the Group One Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at the same course last October, will carry many of France’s hopes – and Andre Fabre, who has won the last two editions of this colts’ Classic, is represented by Parchemin.

Mother Earth will be joined in the 1000 Guineas by a fellow Irish filly in Ken Condon’s Miss Amulet – making her seasonal reappearance after a successful two-year-old campaign, which included Lowther Stakes victory at York and and an admirable third at the Breeders’ Cup.

Ralph Beckett flies the flag for Britain with his Listed and Group Three winner Lullaby Moon – also making her first start of the season – while Philomene, unbeaten in two starts for Fabre, and Francis-Henri Graffard’s Sweet Lady lead home hopes.

Monday Musings: We’re On!

So finally, after 76 days, 330 lost meetings and something of a cliff-hanger, the wait is officially over, writes Tony Stafford. Oliver Dowden, Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, was in the saddle to announce the go-ahead at Saturday’s coronavirus briefing in Downing Street. Thus, unlike his government’s much-maligned advisor Dominic Cummings, Newmarket trainers and horses will legally have carte blanche to take the long road north to Newcastle.

With ten races both on Monday and Tuesday at Gosforth Park, all limited to maximum fields of 12, it might have been expected that there would be an imbalance of runners from HQ. In the event, while there are Newmarket-trained representatives in most (eight) races on Monday and all ten on Tuesday, the total is a fairly modest 22 on the opening day and only 15 on the second, which must have been a relief for many trainers and owners in the north.

Kempton on Tuesday predictably has a southern bias, but it will not be until today Monday’s 72-hour declarations for the first of four days at Newmarket that the skilful hand of the BHA will be properly shown. The first four of seven races are all restricted to two-year-olds and, with the same limitation of 12 runners per race as elsewhere, three of the four can be divided. That means we will have seven races for juveniles, helping to make a start to redressing a few of the forfeited opportunities in the void of April and May.

Smaller fields and racing behind closed doors will enable the continued practising of social distancing rules. With the last week also (thanks principally to a big drop on the Tuesday after the latest Bank Holiday) contributing another approximate 20 per cent fall in the number of UK deaths (on my figures a 21.4% decline and 1696 deaths), the government felt able to counter some northern politicians who wanted a further delay. Even more compelling is the continued reduction in the weekly numbers in hospital suffering from the disease, down 15% on the week.

Dowden clearly believes that horse racing will be an important potential agent for renewed public confidence after the shock and denial of entertainment of the past 11 weeks. Even better news for the man in the street, not that he’s been anywhere in sight of late, is the prospect of re-opened betting shops on Royal Ascot eve, Monday June 15. Just as it was deemed possible to regulate customer-flow in supermarkets at the height of public hysteria and fear about Covid-19 - which would have been fine apart from many customers’ refusal to comply with the two-metre apart arrows - then it should be easy enough to allow the smaller volume of people wishing to enter betting shops to do so in an orderly and safe fashion.

With top professional football also resuming that week, couch potatoes will be in their element. However it’s the four days of Newmarket that excite me with last year’s Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck, heading a possible team of three from Ballydoyle in the Hurworth Bloodstock Coronation Cup, transferred from Epsom. Broome and Sir Dragonet can bolster the Aidan O’Brien team and the Irish maestro is reportedly taking a short lease on a property in the town to accommodate his staff in what will be something of a satellite operation with 14-day isolation rules in place while the horses can fly back and forth as needed.

Two other highly-interesting names are included in the 11-horse entry, with Stradivarius, champion stayer for the past two years, dropping back to a mile and a half, and Godolphin’s Ghaiyyath, who would have been one of the obvious favourites had the Dubai World Cup meeting gone ahead as planned, representing Charlie Appleby. Ghaiyyath has the advantage of a run this year, winning a Meydan Group 3 by eight lengths in late February.

At five, so a year younger than Stradivarius, he is lightly-raced with six wins in nine starts, but critics will point to his flop when only tenth of 12 in last autumn’s Arc behind Waldgeist and Enable. So far he has yet to click on the biggest days but his official mark of 126 clearly indicates what a classy performer he is.

Later today, the acceptors will be known for the 2000 Guineas but also today the French maintain their edge of getting going first of the three major European racing powers with both Guineas mile Classics, transferred to Deauville from Longchamp. That latter track was summarily, but probably only temporarily, closed after an initial flurry three weeks ago.

Many of the big trainers are based near or in Chantilly, which was previously also in the same proscribed Red Zone as Paris proper, but they will have been relieved that Chantilly has now been given the all-clear so meetings there and at nearby Compiegne can resume from this week. One obvious exception is Jean-Claude Rouget who trains in the west, so within easy reach of Deauville. Rouget and Andre Fabre both have fancied runners in each race, but I expect Ecrivain, second while not getting a clear run in the trial (Fontainebleau) three weeks again, to beat both in the “2000” for the Carlos Laffon-Parias stable.

As with the Coronation Cup, Appleby and O’Brien will be going head to head on Saturday in the 2000 Guineas, but five-day confirmations will not be known until after these words are published on Monday morning. Pinatubo has been favourite, and a short-priced one throughout the winter and the subsequent period of no racing, and remains odds-on to confirm his superiority over Coolmore’s Arizona, whom he beat by two lengths in the Dewhurst Stakes last October.

While confidence abounds in the favourite, word from Ireland suggests that O’Brien, already winner of the Newmarket colts’ Classic ten times, could not be happier with Arizona’s progress, so an each-way bet at the prevailing 6-1 could be a value bet-to-nothing, possibly with a small saver to be second to the favourite as insurance.

Ryan Moore has had his moments of misfortune as well as success in the 2000 Guineas in the past decade, winning on Churchill and Gleneagles, but having to watch from Churchill Downs two years ago while Donnacha O’Brien collected on Saxon Warrior before his own unfortunate ride on Mendelssohn in the Kentucky Derby. Last May he looked across from the middle of track on the non-staying favourite Ten Sovereigns as stable-mate Magna Grecia, again with the younger O’Brien son riding, swept to victory up the stands rail.

Ryan’s international pursuit of big prizes has often extended across to Japan and as recently as last November he teamed up with the two-year-old Contrail to win a Group 3 race in Tokyo. The colt won two more important races without Ryan, the Group 1 Hopeful last backend and the Japanese 2000 Guineas (Satsuki Sho) this spring. Both races were over ten furlongs and Yuichi Fukanaga had the mount each time. Contrail won the Guineas by half a length when the runner-up was Salios.

I’m sure that without those quarantine rules, Ryan would have been seeking out connections to try to get back on Contrail in yesterday’s Japanese Derby (Tokyo Yushun) for which he was the 2-5 favourite in a field of 16 over the mile and a half trip. Salios again proved to be his main challenger but this time the victory margin was three lengths as the winner, a son of star stallion Deep Impact, took home the first prize of more than £1.5 million.

No doubt Moore will be fully aware of the missed jockey’s share, but will hope he can pick up some compensation nearer home. Already O’Brien has intimated that the jockey will not be going across to The Curragh for the following weekend’s Guineas double. As to Contrail he seems to be following hard on the example of the brilliant filly Almond Eye as another potential Japanese star set to take on the world’s best in the coming months.

- TS